This oleh answers the question 'Why be Jewish?' with a bottle of wine

Adam Scott Bellos: "I knew that wine was the greatest way to open up the Jewish identity conversation."

 Adam Scott Bellos, 35, From Cincinnati to Tel Aviv, 2011 (photo credit: Courtesy Wine on the Vine)
Adam Scott Bellos, 35, From Cincinnati to Tel Aviv, 2011
(photo credit: Courtesy Wine on the Vine)

Watching Adam Scott Bellos with a glass of wine in hand, suavely interviewing prominent Israelis from Natan Sharansky to Ron Dermer on his “Wine with Adam” talk show, one might get the impression that this guy was handed the good life on a silver platter.

Indeed, Bellos has presence and charisma, energy and ideas. He describes himself as intense, driven and honest to a fault. And yet he’s struggled mightily to define and actualize his life mission.

At 18, the Cincinnati native went on March of the Living, an experience that left a profound impact. At 20, while at the University of Arizona, he did a semester abroad at Tel Aviv University.

“It was then I understood what Zionism was,” he says. After graduating with a degree in Judaic studies and Middle Eastern history, he made aliyah. He served in the army as an officer’s assistant in places including Hebron and Beit El.

Afterward, he worked for a politician and when that went sour, he flew to China to manage an Israeli belly-dancing company.

The Wine on the Vine crew poses at their event in Jerusalem last month. (credit: Courtesy)The Wine on the Vine crew poses at their event in Jerusalem last month. (credit: Courtesy)

Those six months in China, he says, were “very detrimental to my soul. At the same time, I learned what it was to truly live in exile. And I saw that it didn’t matter what your nationality, religion or politics were – people cared about putting food on the table. That really shaped my outlook and taught me that business and economic development make peace.”

Back in Israel, he worked on Michael Oren’s English-speaking campaign for the Kulanu Party before the 2015 elections. Then he began studying for a master’s in Middle Eastern history at Tel Aviv University.

“It was very important to me to understand the Palestinian perspective and identity and the Islamization of the Palestinian movement, because I knew that it would help me understand Zionism more,” he says. “It’s important to be able to separate the Palestinian national resistance movement from the Palestinian identity and narrative.”

During that time he created The Israel Innovation Fund (TIFF) “as a vehicle for Zionism to improve the country, bring Jews to Israel, create community and perpetuate the Zionist movement as a cultural and social movement.”

Wine on the Vine

TIFF’s flagship project is Wine on the Vine, a multifaceted program offering opportunities to buy Israeli wines, tour Israeli wineries, attend wine parties or sponsor the planting of grapevines in Israel. Bellos also is planning to build a National Wine Trail in cooperation with local municipalities across Israel.

“I had Wednesdays off when I was in school, and I decided that every Wednesday would be my ‘try a new bottle of Israeli wine’ day while reading my class assignments. That period of studying and drinking different wines really made me understand what the next part of the Zionist movement should be,” says Bellos.

“I’ve had this obsession with the perpetuation of Jewish identity and I felt like it had finally come together in terms of how to articulate what I wanted to do and why I needed to do it outside of politics.”

“I’ve had this obsession with the perpetuation of Jewish identity and I felt like it had finally come together in terms of how to articulate what I wanted to do and why I needed to do it outside of politics.”

Adam Scott Bellos

TO FUND his vision, Bellos invested his savings in the stock market.

“It was the end of the Obama administration, and the market was starting to boom. I realized that, as Michael Steinhardt wrote, if you can understand the variant of the stock market at any given moment, you can create wealth. And I understood the variant of the time: ideas. Whoever had the best idea, their stock was the one rising.”

Using this principle, Bellos invested in companies such as Tesla, Google, Target and Amazon, making enough money to bankroll TIIF for a time. And that’s fortunate because fundraising proved difficult.

“It took till after COVID-19 for people to really understand what I’ve been trying to accomplish with TIIF. I wanted to create something 90% digital, geared towards young people and focused on Jewish culture and history – not religion, politics or antisemitism. I felt the ‘why be Jewish’ question can be answered with a bottle of wine. Individuals and traditional Jewish organizations did not understand this.”

Israeli wine became more popular during the pandemic, he says.

“We opened a wine store to sell wine in Israel and in the States. And then we began ‘Wine with Adam’ because I realized that making video content about Israeli wine was important in telling the story.” That talk show is now one of the top-rated programs on the Jewish News Syndicate.

“It is not that I’m obsessed with wine,” says Bellos. “But I knew that wine was the greatest way to open up the Jewish identity conversation and I later understood that Israel could become economically independent if the wine industry becomes as big as it is in other countries.”

In February, Bellos narrowly escaped injury when his two-story office/residence in Tel Aviv – a former Yemenite synagogue – was destroyed in an electrical fire. He ran out with his dog and his grandfather’s briefcase in the middle of the night.

Bellos lost personal and TIIF artworks, family heirlooms, wines, business and personal possessions. Some things miraculously survived. “I’m not so much a religious person right now, but finding my tefillin and my tallit right next to the point of origin [of the fire] kind of blew my mind,” he says.

Two days after the fire, Russia invaded Ukraine. The Ukrainian family of Bellos’ filmmaking partner, Daria Turetsky, became refugees.

“That gave me an even greater perspective as to how lucky I was,” he says.

“While I have really stressed out about the money that I spent on starting TIIF, and still not have been able to take a salary for the last couple of years, I now know that minor financial problems are not as serious as a house fire and losing things. The fire showed me that I handle real problems well. And I think people learned what Adam Scott Bellos is truly made of.” ■

Adam Scott Bellos, 35 From Cincinnati to Tel Aviv, 2011